Business of Writing · Interviews · Role Playing · Writing

Interview with Stephen Herron – Role Playing Game Creator

Tell our readers a little bit about yourself… not something they’ll get from your bio… just about you in general!

My name is Stephen Herron, and I live in Cleveland, Ohio, with my wife Caitlin and many, many cats. I’m originally from Northern Ireland, and moved to the United States when I was 29. In my day job, I am Digital Marketing Director for a local non-profit that supports regional manufacturing. I’m also a photographer. But in my spare time, I’m a long-time Dungeons and Dragons fanatic, and I’ve been playing table-top RPGs for decades.

Tell me about your games. What do you write? What’s your preferred genre, and what drew you to write it?

desolation_coverGiven my long-time hobby of role-playing games, it’s natural that I funneled my creativity in that direction. I started in the mid-90s by working with a US-based publisher called White Wolf, and provided additional material for a sourcebook that came out in 1996. Funnily enough, I’d end up writing for them again in 2010.

In 2007, two friends and I formed a publishing company, Greymalkin Designs, to write and publish a post-apocalyptic fantasy RPG called Desolation. I was lead writer on that project, and wrote the heck out that, and two other supporting books.

brokenroomscoverrev-223x300In 2012, we published Broken Rooms, a modern “parallel worlds” horror/science fiction RPG. This was something I’d had in my mind since 1996, and had tried to publish a couple of times before, but it never really came out right. This time, though, it was perfect.

In addition, I have written a couple of novels, one of which remains thankfully unpublished (though it helped me get into my undergraduate English course), and the other was published online in episodic format during the late 90s. I also have a collection of short stories and poetry I’m thinking about publishing via Amazon.

What’s your favorite game you’ve designed, and why?

Definitely Broken Rooms. I was able to get all my ideas out onto paper, and to work with friends and contributors who had been enthusiastically supporting the game for over a decade. Seeing it in print was wonderful and a testament to their talent and my inability to let something go.

Writing is tough, and finishing projects is even tougher. What drives you to write? Why/when did you start writing?

General writing (blogs, short stories, etc) comes rarely, and seems to be kind of like a pot boiling over. The ideas and need to communicate them can no longer be contained and writing is the only way to get the ideas out of your head. Broken Rooms was like that. Even though years would go by without work on it, it was always, always in my head. The concept was something that felt like it wouldn’t ever leave me alone until I’d given it what it wanted, which was a hardback, $50 RPG that could stand alongside all the other games I’ve been buying and playing since I was 13.

I started writing really early. I recently spoke on Facebook to my teacher from when I was 8 years old (it’s called P. 4 in Northern Ireland). She remembers me writing stories in class (science fiction, of course).

What’s your elevator pitch? What would you add to your elevator pitch if you had more time? Sell us on your work!

“I write games, like Dungeons and Dragons. No, not computer games. Yes, with dice. Yes, I’m a nerd. Proudly.”

What would you say has been the hardest part of being an game creator?

It’s not exactly mainstream. Even when Broken Rooms was up for an Ennie (an RPG community award) it still didn’t feel like it meant much in the grand scheme of things. I suppose most authors feel like that. While most people who have read or bought the game seem to love it, I suppose I’d like to have reached a wider audience.

What has been the best or easiest part?

Finding great people to write and work with.

What do you do when you find the words just won’t come to you?

I try not to stress about it, since that makes it much harder.

Sometimes, even if the words aren’t coming, the ideas are there. So, it’s important to record and keep track of the ideas for when the words do finally come.
I use Scrivener for writing, which allows me to write in a non-linear fashion, writing single scenes or concepts, to pull together later. I use Evernote, too, which is a great tool for writing even a few paragraphs when one has the time.

We all have those things that keep us going… what keeps you coming back to your manuscript/blog/projects? Is it a process? Do you set goals for yourself? Are you purely inspiration driven? Pacts with aliens? What is it?

I’ve actually taken a bit of break from writing, since after Broken Rooms, I felt exhausted. I took up photography again (something I’d dabbled with as a teen) and so I’ve been doing that for a few years instead. Now, I’m running a Dungeons and Dragons game again, and that requires quite a bit of creative writing, as it’s a setting of my own design. That really helps get the words flowing again.

Other than that, I wait for the pot to boil over.

What do you love about the type of games you create and what others appeal to you?

Roleplaying games are a fantastic way to make friends, flex mental and creative muscles, and to be a part of a story that you, and the rest of the players, create. If you’re a bit of an introvert, it’s a way to safely be in the spotlight as you take your actions, before handing the attention off to the next player. Like improv, it’s about saying “yes, and,” which is incredibly positive. Being able to write and publish games that other people play is an honor. It feels like giving back to the hobby.

What can we expect from you next? Tell us about the plans for your projects.

Lots of photographs 🙂 At this point, I like helping other people find their muses and get into writing. My job is pretty strategic from a content standpoint, so I am bringing that into other parts of my life. I like reading, so I want to read what others are writing. It’s very rewarding to read something that you inspired someone else to write.

I might write up my current D&D setting into something more publishable, but for now, I’m learning to relax and write gaming material that doesn’t HAVE to end up in a book.

How are you published? What are your thoughts on independent publishing and self-marketing? What direction would you like to see the industry move?

We published our own books. Distribution is the tough part, and we do have a distributor. Our games are available via Amazon (though some may have sold out now) and I sometimes find our books in gaming stores.

I am intrigued by publishing for Kindle. I think I might try that next, with some of my short stories.

While I’d hate to lose paperbacks, I’m all for self-publishing via Kindle. However, I’d love to see the quality of content stay high. The signal-to-noise ratio nowadays isn’t great.

What are your favorite board games or computer games, and why?

I am trying not to play computer games right now, as they are time-sinks. If you want to be productive with your writing, I’d recommend severely limiting screen time. Having said that, Minecraft is good fun. It’s relaxing and creative.

In terms of board games, I don’t play them much, but I like collaborative games (like Pandemic) much more than the traditional competitive games.

What are you working on currently and when can we expect to see it hit the shelves (physical or virtual shelves, that is)?

Nothing currently, but I can see myself publishing something via Kindle before the end of 2017. I have a novel I’ve been working on that stalled, so maybe I could revisit that.

Greymalkin Designs has a card game we’ve been working on, but we don’t have a specific launch date for that yet.

Lastly, tell us where to find you:
Twitter: @stephenherron
Links to your works:

stephenherronStephen Herron is Director of Digital and Content Marketing for a Cleveland-area non-profit. Originally from Northern Ireland, he has lived in Northeast Ohio since early 2000. He is married, with six cats and still has his accent (mostly). He has been writing for the role-playing game industry for 20 years.

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